For more than 160 years, First Church has provided a spiritual home for our neighbors in Oakland and the Bay Area.
Our History Is linked to our Vision
We are grateful for the legacy of spiritual leadership that goes back to the Gold Rush. The core values we share today, hope, faithfulness and diversity, were not unlike those that inspired the Home Missionaries Board in Syracuse, NY to commission Rev. Edward B. Walsworth and Rev. Samuel Bookstaver Bell to leave the home they knew and loved and to travel west to plant a church which would bring the good news to the Gold Coast. They traveled from New York, sailing around Cape Horn to San Francisco in 1852, and in March 1853, First Presbyterian Church of Oakland began in a tent near the Bay.
Within a month, worship services moved to the town’s first public school building until a cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1853, for a new building at Sixth and Harrison Streets. Though a winter storm reduced it to splinters before it could be finished, thanks to the resilience of Rev. Bell, who traveled around the gold camps appealing for funds, we were able to rebuild. Before the new building was finished, the contractor ran off with the remaining funds, and the project was saved only through intervention by a friendly stranger who saw a sheriff’s notice of sale to cover the debts left behind. Though there was only enough money for a basic shelter from the elements and with the pulpit and communion table created from carpenter’s trestles and boards with a shawl draped over them, worshippers found a sanctuary as the prayed and sang together on pews made from planks stretched across nail kegs.
From the start, we made a welcoming home for all. First Church has been called “the mother church of Oakland,” not just because it was the first to be formally organized, but also because it included members whose traditional affiliations included Methodist, Baptist and Congregational. As Oakland grew, other congregations sprang from its midst: First Baptist Church in 1854, St. John’s Episcopal Church in 1855, First Congregational Church in 1862, and First Methodist Church in 1862. Over the decades, we have provided nesting space for the first African American Presbyterian congregation in Oakland and nurtured small congregations such as Way of Holiness and Bay Area Christian Connection by providing welcoming worship space.
Now in our fourth permanent home at 27th and Broadway, we carry forward the legacy of the vision of sharing the good news as we seek to make God's welcome known to all people. Though our congregation travels from all over the Bay Area, we remain committed to ministry in the City of Oakland.